Same event, different experience

I invite you to find a different perspective – if you have a child in your life who you think is ‘playing up’ for apparently no-reason, stop judging them and start looking for the reason you haven’t noticed yet.

A picture posted on social media last week brought back memories of a day at primary school which had a lasting effect on me. As I read through the comments posted by others who were present on that day I started thinking about how, as human beings, we can witness or be part of an event, yet each person’s experience of that event can be totally different. When we see a child being punished for example, we don’t see whether the adult punishing them is being stricter than they would be with another child, or not. We also don’t see how frequently that child may have been punished by that adult in the past, or if the child was really guilty. We have a tendency to judge the child’s reactions, based on that one event.

My story is about an event which took place at primary school and reflects on how different pupils remember the experience in vastly different ways.

The picture posted on social media shows a class dressed up for an ‘Edwardian Day’ as part of a 1980’s primary school Edwardian Day experience. Myself and two of my friends had totally different experiences of that day. One thought it was fun, another thought it was a bit harsh but nothing too bad, and I experienced deep trauma which I can remember to this day. However, we all had different ongoing relationships with that teacher, as well as being treated differently on the day.

Miranda – was put in the corner as a punishment for a short time. She had an ok relationship with Mrs. X. Miranda’s recollection of the day was “I got a question wrong and Mrs X put me in the corner and made me wear the dunce hat. I kind of laughed and she roared at me. I remember the confusion I felt about whether she really meant it or not”.

Colette – was not put in the corner and had a very good relationship with Mrs. X. Colette remembered the day as ‘Good times!!’ She qualified this by saying that being put in the corner is an awful way to teach and thank goodness we’ve moved on since then.

Holly also remembered the day and posted ‘I loved Mrs. X’ and went on to say that Mrs. X only shouted at her once, but otherwise, she got on with her really well and is pleased that one of her favourite teachers is still about.

My recollections were quite different. I spent most of the day in the corner with the dunce cap on, for reasons that were very unfair. Mrs. X. had an agenda against me generally as a student. I could not understand the way she taught, and no allowance was made for that.

My experience of that day was totally different to that of any other student. This was because I was not having a fun time playing at Edwardian. Mrs. X’s agenda that day meant I was on the receiving end of her persecuting me as much as she wanted, under the guise of an historical re-enactment.

To make matters worse, I was already traumatised before I even entered Mrs. X’s classroom at the age of 9. She was my class teacher, every day until I was 11, by which time her negative treatment of me had moved me from being ‘simply’ traumatised by school, to being utterly non-functional.

From the moment Mrs. X. met me, she was unwilling to address my learning needs.

She didn’t recognise that I was traumatised and would not believe that I was trying to learn because my learning style didn’t match her teaching methods.

I already felt I was failing and needed to try harder. Unfortunately, the harder I tried to learn, the more I had to ask questions in class, which had always irritated my teachers.

For example:

Even before I met Mrs. X. school was such a traumatic experience for me that I would shut myself in the toilets before school every day and cry because I didn’t want to go to lessons. I would cry until the bell went. Then I would pull myself together and arrive at class, externally presentable, but completely overwhelmed and petrified inside. Nobody knew this was going on and the reason I didn’t tell anyone was because my belief pattern made me feel that I was doing something wrong. I felt ashamed.

Unfortunately, Mrs. X. was completely oblivious to any of this and was neither empathic nor sensitive to my needs. I would repeatedly ask her for help, but she found my asking anything to be a problem. As a result, I was constantly in a hyperactive state, permanently in fight or flight which left me chewing my way through all my pencils. At one point I think I even ate through my pencil case itself.

My experiences of Mrs. X. on Edwardian day (and generally) were completely different from Holly and Miranda’s experiences. These differences can’t be seen in that photos of us from the day. However, I have a photograph that shows a different side where I am dying on the inside. (See photo) So often we judge people on how they are reacting at the moment. However, it’s important to remember that people don’t overreact out of choice, but because they are having a legitimate reaction to something that is happening to them that you cannot see from where you’re standing.

My classmates may not understand why I sustained lifelong trauma from being put in the corner with the Dunce’s hat on that day. Mrs. X. in turn, didn’t know why I wasn’t behaving like she wanted me to in class, because I had undiagnosed dyslexia and dyspraxia. I was already petrified at school every day because of spending my whole school life being treated like a difficult kid, when in fact I was just different, in a way that wasn’t being accommodated.

Mrs. X, my classmates, and I, all had different experiences of the same event. I would ask a lot of questions in class – my experience was of trying to learn, her experience was that I was ‘playing up’. She never tried to see things from any other perspective or asked me what my perspective was.

I invite you again to find a different perspective – if you have a child in your life who you think is playing up for apparently no-reason, stop judging them and start looking for the reason you haven’t noticed yet.

If you have a child in your life you are struggling to understand this maybe the answer.